PISCATAWAY, N.J.: Kent State is no longer winless in games against ranked teams.
The Golden Flashes’ 35-23 win over previously unbeaten and 18th-ranked Rutgers on Saturday ended a 22-game winless streak against ranked opponents and pushed their winning streak to six games.
The last time Kent State (7-1, 4-0 Mid-American Conference) won six in a row was in 1940, and the win over the Scarlet Knights (7-1) is arguably the biggest victory in the history of the program, which started playing football in 1920.
“This is a great win for our program,” said Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, a Rutgers assistant from 2001-03. “We came on the road against a very tough opponent. We knew they were going to be tough, and they did a great job prior to playing us. I thought our kids prepared like crazy this week. We made enough plays early in the game to keep those guys off balance. Rutgers kept fighting back, and our guys kept fighting them off.”
Kent State also took over first place in the Mid-American Conference East Division with Miami’s 23-20 win over previously unbeaten Ohio.
The biggest play of the game was made by Golden Flashes defensive end Mark Fackler, a one-handed, 25-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the second quarter that gave Kent State a 14-3 lead and the belief it could win.
It was his second interception of the game and one of six interceptions by the Golden Flashes, who forced a season-high seven turnovers.
“[We were] dropping some of the inside guys, and I just saw his eyes, followed his eyes and was right there on the first one,” Fackler said after his first two-interception game since high school. “The second one was a play call. We were going that way, and I saw what he did. That was a play that was going to happen. It was there.”
First-year Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said it was a remarkable play by Fackler.
“I thought it was an excellent reaction,” Flood said. “Really, one of those plays, I don’t know if you’ll see it again. You don’t see it very often. The last time I can remember something like that, I’m sure it’s happened since, I remember Julius Peppers doing it when he was playing at North Carolina. As an offensive line coach, you tend to remember those type of things because they’re so unique.”
Kent State intercepted Gary Nova six times and recovered a fumble to give the MAC its second consecutive win over an undefeated Big East team. Toledo knocked off Cincinnati last week.
“It’s a terrible feeling,” said Nova, who completed 25-of-46 passes for 313 yards. “You never want to feel like this, especially with all of the hard work you’ve put in. You’ve just got to take the punches and keep going.”
KSU quarterback Spencer Keith threw touchdown passes of 1 yard to Zack Hitchens and 15 yards to Josh Boyle, the latter giving the Golden Flashes a 35-17 lead with 11:30 to play. Dri Archer, the nation’s leader in touchdowns coming into this week, scored on a 7-yard run, and Trayion Durham scored from 3 yards out.
Nova, the Big East’s top offensive player last week, threw for touchdowns of 19 yards to Tim Wright and 24 to Brandon Coleman. Jawan Jamison scored on a 2-yard run to cut Rutgers’ deficit to 12 with 10:35 to play, but the Scarlet Knights never got closer.
At the final gun, Kent State players bumped chests, high-fived, and ran to the corner of the stadium to share the celebration with their few followers from Ohio who came to New Jersey.
Nova threw four interceptions in the first half, resulting in 14 points and a 21-3 Kent State lead.
“It always builds momentum when you get turnovers,” said linebacker Luke Batton, who had 13 tackles, a sack and an interception. “It gets your whole team up, especially the defense. Everyone is trying to get a little piece of the pie. I guess you can say it snowballs.”
Kent State never trailed after Keith hit Hitchens with a 1-yard touchdown pass for a 7-3 lead. Fackler’s touchdown stretched the lead to 14-3, and Archer pushed it to 21-3 after an interception by Leon Green set up a 45-yard drive.
The Golden Flashes allowed Rutgers to get back in the game in the final 59 seconds with a five-play, 83-yard drive that started with a 45-yard run by Jamison and ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Wright with :04 left in the half.
However, Rutgers never got any closer in the second half.